26 October 2012

Retreat may be masterly

Newsweek 1943The demise of Newsweek was almost inevitable. While it is not complete – the 79-year-old magazine will only be available in digital form from 1 January 2013 – the thinning of the once-powerful newsweeklies has been dismal to watch. To be on the cover of Newsweek – and more especially, its older rival, Time – was to be on a billboard throughout the world.

Even to the late 1960s, when TV news footage of important events such as the moon landing had to travel in film canisters to New Zealand, the newsweeklies could be up to date with a week’s events. For all their regurgitated prose, there was some great writing: Newsweek journalists were awarded bylines first, while at Time, Jay Cocks on film and music, and Robert Hughes on art, were stylists at the height of their game. Newsweek may have had a circulation of 3,130,600 in 2006, falling to 1,524,989 by 2011, but it has been on the ropes for years. Sometime in the 1980s, the Australian and New Zealand edition was subsumed into The Bulletin, itself now dead for five years.

Time 1944In my archive I have a collection of “pony” Time and Newsweek magazines from the Second World War. They were given to me in 1977 by Bill Alexander, a friend of my father. These are miniature versions of the real thing, just 21cm x 15.5cm, that were available to Allied troops on subscription. As a clever reaction to a changing market, they are not unlike the decision to go digital. (Though whether the subscription model will work is doubtful.) The Newsweek featuring the Allied leaders comes from 13 December 1943, while the Time with Field-Marshal Fritz Von Manstein is dated 10 January 1944. (The cover caption reads, in Time-ese: “Retreat may be masterly, but victory is in the opposite direction.”) Click on the image to see Boris Chaliapin’s great illustration in detail: he turned out one of these most weeks.

Janis NewsweekBoth magazines were slow to cover the pop music revolution of the 1960s. The Beatles didn’t appear on the cover of Time until 1967, although Jay Cocks wrote an excellent cover story on the Band at the time of Stage Fright in 1970, and an influential cover featuring James Taylor would follow in 1971. Both Time and Newsweek famously featured Bruce Springsteen on the cover in the same week in 1975, which must have caused some boardroom teeth-gnashing. My favourite story of pop and the newsweeklies comes from 1969, when a planned cover story on Janis Joplin was bumped from Newsweek when the former President Eisenhower died. Joplin wailed: “Fourteen f----- heart attacks and he had to die in my f------ week. In MY week!” She eventually made the cover two months later, on 26 May 1969.

05 October 2012

Town v Country

Crump 130661p38 Finding this was the original reason for posting about the Barry Crump index the other day: a piece from New Zealand Truth, 13 June 1961.

He is playing his persona to the hilt – getting kicked out by bookshops, giving his dogs away, landlady issues – but gives Kevin Ireland credit for turning him into a writer: “Twenty-five times he made me write my first story and then he published it. That was the start.”

And there is a reference to a comment about his success that was apparently quoted often: “The dough’s got into me blood.”

03 October 2012

Fish wrapping

image1. I Read it in a Magazine

Salient – Victoria University’s student magazine – is these days stapled, A4 and 48 pages. It is smartly edited (Asher Emanuel & Ollie Neas) and also elegantly designed (Racheal Reeves), albeit imitative of The Believer. But whereas much of The Believer is unreadable due to its slippery, affected prose, with Salient it’s simply the typography. Grey type on bleached white paper, black type on dark grey paper, and all in 4 point. Don’t they want their writers to be read? A pity, as the content is strong, like much of the student media (see Peter McLennan’s summary of a Craccum campaign about an Auckland University scandal here) – though we are yet to see the effect of the vindictive voluntary student unionism bill. Two items from the October 1st “Power” issue:

2. ‘The Measure of a Manhire’

Rob Kelly interviews Bill Manhire the mild-mannered Superpoet on his departure from VUW. Manhire describes the 1960s at Otago, when – thanks to the university’s Burns fellowship – a few New Zealand writing role models finally entered his sphere (they weren’t part of the English curriculum at the time): Baxter (“behaving badly”), Janet Frame (“scuttling along corridors”), Maurice Gee, Hone Tuwhare. These writers “became very influential, but more as examples of people who had committed their lives to doing the thing that mattered. So it was great to go to the Captain Cook and drink beer with Hone, but also you knew that … I mean, he would arrive with poems and sort of hand them out, and all the local alcoholics would give him advice and he’d go away with a much worse poem than he arrived with. A sort of anti creative writing workshop.”

3. ‘I Moustache You Some Questions’

Chris McIntyre interviews TVNZ’s Mark Sainsbury, just prior to the news that Close Up is closing shop. Is it hard defending his throne against the likes of Hosking and Henry? “It’s one of the top jobs, so people want that job, but they can’t have it … Paul Henry made no secret he wanted that job, he’s now working on breakfast in Australia. I mean, draw what you like out of that.”

4. Must Try Harder

RS mick jagger 1968 We’ve all made mistakes, rushing to judgement on a new album, film or book, only for it later to be declared a classic. Michael Schmidt is devoting his spare time to collating “Rolling Stone’s 500 Worst Reviews of All Time”.

He actually comiserates rather than scores points as he finds Lenny Kaye dissing Exile on Main Street, Jon Landau underwhelmed by Sticky Fingers, Langdon Winner finding After the Gold Rush rushed (“I can’t listen to it at all”). And Ed Ward, who was often excellent (on the Band, Texan country rock and 1950s rock’n’roll) on Abbey Road:

Side two is a disaster ... The slump begins with ‘Because’, which is a rather nothing song ... the biggest bomb on the album is ‘Sun King’,which overflows with sixth and ninth chords and finally degenerates into a Muzak-sounding thing with Italian lyrics. It is probably the worst thing the Beatles have done since they changed drummers. This leads into the “Suite” which finishes up the side. There are six little songs, each slightly under two minutes long, all of which are so heavily overproduced that they are hard to listen to ...

Ward wasn’t alone of course, in the New York Times Nik Cohn agreed, though not about the “Suite” (“For 15 minutes, tremendous”), and two years earlier Richard Goldstein dissed Sgt Pepper, following it up in the Village Voice with a similarly well-argued piece about the reaction called “I Blew My Cool Through the New York Times.”

Rolling Stone’s response? The managing editor Evie Nagy sniffed: “I say this genuinely without bias, that person's time could have been so much better spent. At least make it funny.”

5. Gambling with Gout

Speaking of the Fabs, I remain to be convinced by Magical Mystery Tour, though the connections with Python are plausible. But just released, by the BBC’s Arena programme, are five minutes of outtakes in which the Beatles buy fish’n’chips while on their bus journey (think Ken Kesey meets Beano).

kennyIt reminds me of another fish’n’chip/musician/tour bus story, about Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. When Kenny Rogers couldn’t get arrested, he toured New Zealand often and regularly appeared on NZBC-TV. Circa 1971 Rogers and the First Edition were travelling down the West Coast; it was a Sunday night and dinner time. So the New Zealand promoter got requests from the band and stopped at a local takeaway, somewhere between Karamea and Franz Josef. When he returned with a big cardboard carton, he walked down the bus aisle, saying to Rogers and his band, “Chicken and chips? That’s $1.30. Two fish, a fritter and chips? $1.75. A hot dog and chips? $1.20 …”

There'll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’ is done.